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Zurich – Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and the University of Zurich have developed a method that stops water turning into ice even at temperatures of minus 263 degrees Celsius. This development will help in the preservation of large biomolecules.

When water freezes the molecules are arranged in regular 3-dimensional lattice structures, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH) explained in a press release. If the molecules can be forced to remain disordered, water would not freeze even at extreme minus temperatures close to absolute zero.

In collaboration with researchers at the University of Zurich (UZH), ETH reports that a group of physicists and chemists have identified a method to prevent molecules from forming ice crystals. Researchers developed an innovative material made of lipid molecules. In their lipidic mesophase, lipid molecules form membranes as a network of connected channels that measure less than one nanometer in diameter.

According to the ETH press release, there is no room in the narrow channels of the lipidic mesophase for water to form ice crystals. “The novelty of our lipids is the introduction of highly strained three-membered rings into specific positions within the hydrophobic parts of the molecules”, said Ehud Landau, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Zurich.  “These enable the necessary curvature to produce such tiny water channels and prevent lipids to crystallize.”

The new material can be utilized to isolate and preserve large biomolecules. These would usually be damaged by ice crystals forming in the normal freezing process, explained Raffaele Mezzenga from the Laboratory of Food & Soft Materials at ETH. With the new mesophase, such molecules can be preserved and studied in their original state.

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